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College Hockey:
This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 4, 2007

Dave Hendrickson is currently in Europe. He said that it has something to do with watching his son, Ryan, play hockey for Wesleyan … but that may just mean that he plans to eat several seven-course meals in Paris to honor No. 7 for the Wesleyan Cardinals.

Unhappy New Year

Last weekend resulted in almost every Hockey East team saying “good riddance” to 2006. The league’s teams competed in eight holiday tournaments, and Maine did win the Florida Hockey Classic in impressive style, knocking off Western Michigan and Cornell.

Otherwise, though, the outcomes left several squads with the equivalent of a nasty New Year’s Day hangover. Five of the eight teams lost their first-round game and were resigned to battling for third place in a four-team field. In the end, Hockey East came away with one win and two second-place finishes (Mass.-Lowell and Vermont, the latter at home). Boston University, New Hampshire, and Northeastern finished third in their tournaments, while UMass and Providence finished last. The Minutemen lost decisively to Alabama-Huntsville in a bit of a shocker.

For good measure — or bad measure, actually — Merrimack didn’t play in a tournament but went down to Robert Morris and came home with just one of four possible points.

Perhaps Boston College was wise to stay home for the holidays.

“We didn’t do very well,” Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said. “You try to use that opportunity to kind of launch the second half, and these things are kind of waiting in the bushes to get you when you check the computer rankings in late February and early March because these things all play into how the whole league fares down the line. So yeah, it’s kind of disappointing.”

Bertagna also sees more parity in college hockey these days, which gives another perspective on the dismal tournament showing.

“I’ve watched these things for so long that I try not to overreact to them. This weekend there were scores that you just look at and scratch your head, but you know what? I’m looking at the way the game is played these days, and I don’t see a lot of great players and great teams; I see a lot of good players and good teams. On a given night, it’s hard to see who the best player is on the ice. I think that women’s hockey still has that.

“It’s funny, I think what that adds up to on a given night is you don’t know what’s going to happen. At the same time, I don’t want to belittle what Maine did, going down there and winning a title.”

Terrier coach Jack Parker feels that other programs feel a little extra motivation when playing Hockey East teams. “I frankly think some other leagues get more pumped up to play the Hockey East schools than we get pumped up to play them,” Parker said. I think that none of us [except Vermont] were playing in our own tournaments [unlike Denver and Minnesota, for example]. That makes a big difference when you’re on the road, etcetera. But also all the leagues are pretty good.”

So if playing on the road is a factor, what about having another holiday tournament or two in the northeast? “I think we all would [like that], but there are certain climates that can really support that kind of event,” Bertagna said. “There’s an economic reality that buildings in Denver and Minnesota and Wisconsin [that people will come to those games]. Here on a given night you don’t know what you have [in terms of attendance].”

That said, Bertagna brightened when I told him what Parker announced on CN8 between periods last weekend: BU expects to play Cornell in Madison Square Garden next Thanksgiving break.

“That would be great,” Bertagna said. “The ECAC used to have a holiday festival, both a basketball and hockey tournament at the Garden. My sophomore year was Harvard, Clarkson, Yale, and Bowdoin in those days when you didn’t mind having a Division III team in the mix. There were no computer rankings. And it was a big thrill to go to New York and dovetailing hockey with shopping and all the things in New York.”

Senses Working Overtime

Probably everyone who works at USCHO.com does something or other that goes under the radar of our readers. One of my minor duties for the past few years has been writing our Question of the Week. As you might have seen, I recently asked readers whether they would like to see college hockey adopt a four-on-four overtime period, a shootout, or both, or neither.

The results were interesting. About two-thirds of over 8,000 readers who replied said they were in favor of changing something — whether the four-on-four OT or the shootout, or both. About 30% said that nothing should be changed.

I thought it would be interesting to run the question by those that I interviewed for this week’s column.

“My personal feeling is that I’d like to see the four-on-four,” Bertagna said. “I’m not a big fan of shootouts: It puts the fate of the game in too few peoples’ hands. I think it’s very anti-climactic to play 65 minutes and then have the shootout.

“I’m also not a big fan of changing how points are awarded. I’d like to see the four-on-four, maybe even a longer overtime — a seven-minute overtime. But then the losing team loses and the winning team gets two points. I’ve never been in favor of these weird standings where you’ve got a shootout loss. But I’m all in favor of a four-on-four overtime or a longer overtime. I bet you’d cuts ties down by half.”

Jack Parker’s viewpoint was almost identical on a four-on-four OT. “I think we should go to four-on-four. I don’t think we should go to a shootout. Why I think it would be a good idea to go to four-on-four and maybe even make it a little bit longer — an eight-minute overtime — would be to maybe eliminate more ties and create some more offense.”

Parker had a slightly different take on the shootout, though he also acknowledged the problem with the standings.

“I don’t mind the shootout for an extra point — everybody gets a tie and then somebody an extra point. But a shootout for a win or loss is completely different. It died out because the NCAA wouldn’t allow it. We tried it out for two years and then they said no. If you want to try a certain rule, you can go for a couple of years. The other reason it died out was because we had different records. It didn’t make sense: Our Hockey East record didn’t look the same as our NCAA record. ‘Is this a win or tie?’”

UNH coach Dick Umile made it unanimous on the four-on-four overtime period. “I’m not a shootout fan,” Umile said. “We had it in our league for a couple of years, and I know the NHL has done it. If I had to choose, I would rather have it done in a team way, so four-on-four would be the way that I’d want to go. Then you’re relying on your team, not just three guys or five guys — however you choose to do it. Let the team determine it.”

Playing the devil’s advocate on the shootout issue, I told Bertagna that the shootout has been a big hit in the NHL. “When they play 70 or 80 games in the NHL, you have to remember that it’s also showbiz,” Bertagna said. “I remember [former Maine coach] Shawn Walsh saying ‘We’re in the entertainment business.’ And I said, ‘No, Shawn, we’re in the education business and we hope to be entertaining — there’s a difference.’ So I’m not sure we have the exact same dynamic that the pros have.”

So it looks like there is little support for a shootout. But what about making four-on-four in overtime a reality in college hockey?

“I know that the Rules Committee put the one thing in the rulebook this year under ‘Future Considerations.’ It doesn’t say how, but they do say that they want to focus on the elimination of ties. So they must’ve had something behind that; they must’ve had some discussions that led to that being on the rulebook. So now we’ll have to see if they say ‘Well, we’ve teased you on that… Now how are we going to do it?’

Bullish in Durham

Notwithstanding Maine’s outstanding record and bragging rights in the current USCHO.com/CSTV poll, the story of the season within Hockey East is certainly UNH. Everyone expected a tight pack of teams at the top going into January, but the Wildcats have put a surprising degree of distance between themselves and the competition. They currently are 10-1-1 for 21 points in league action.

Granted, every other team in the top five has two or even three games in hand versus UNH, but it will take quite a hot streak by another club combined with a Wildcat slump for anyone to threaten the top spot in the standings.

As you would expect, though, Wildcat coach Dick Umile is not exactly encouraging any notions of coronating his team at this point in the season. “Obviously we’ve played a few more games than the other teams,” Umile said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position following the first half, but that can quickly change in the second half. Going into this weekend against Vermont, it’s a huge opportunity for us; it’s a huge opportunity for them.

“We had a great first half, and we talked about when we came back [from break]. It’s over. This is another season. Obviously it would be great if we could hold our own and duplicate the first half, but there’s a lot of Hockey East games now, and we know that the quality of Hockey East is tremendous.”

After some mediocre showings back in late October, the team turned the corner after a 4-4 tie against BU. “They’ve had a great first half, a great run,” Parker said. “They were struggling in goal earlier. The game we played up there, 4-4, I don’t think [Kevin] Regan played all that well. And then all of a sudden he got hot as a pistol; he’s been playing great lately. They’ve always had good offense but they’re playing better defensively too. They’re a team to be reckoned with.”

“Kevin got in a groove, but the team has scored too,” Umile said. “It’s a pretty good combination when you’ve got great goaltending and you get some balanced scoring throughout your team. We have several players who have been consistent in scoring, and Kevin got it going right after the BU weekend.”

In particular, Umile cited forwards Trevor Smith, Michael Radja, and Matt Fornataro as players who have exceeded expectations so far, along with Regan. Smith, a sophomore, is leading the team with 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points in just 18 games. Last season Smith scored just 20 points in 39 games. Junior Matt Fornataro has chipped in nine goals and 15 assists; he is well on his way to scoring more points this season than he did in his first two years combined.

Meanwhile, junior Radja has 14 goals already–coming close to the 16 goals he scored in first two seasons combined.

Unfortunately, though, it will be a while before Wildcat fans see Radja again. “He got hurt over the holidays in the last period in our last game, and he’s going to be out for a while,” Umile said. Radja has a knee injury, possibly to his MCL, and he’s sidelined indefinitely. “It’s a big loss for us.”

Speaking of big losses, UNH suffered their first in quite a while down in Florida. Cornell has been perennially cursed in that Florida holiday tournament, so they certainly were overdue to at least get to the championship.

“We didn’t play great in the third period down in Florida,” Umile said. “We won the first period; they won the second period. Basically the game was up for grabs, and we came out and didn’t get enough quality shots. They made the most of their opportunities and beat us. Cornell is a good team. We bounced back the second night against Western Michigan and played well. Now it’s all about this weekend and Vermont.”

The two-game UNH-Vermont series is obviously the marquee matchup in the league this weekend. Getting the better of it would give UNH an almost insurmountable lead in the standings, but it won’t be easy to do at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

“Alfond has been our toughest [place to play],” Umile said. “We’ve won our last two at Alfond, but over the years it’s been our hardest place to play. Gutterson is another place that’s very tough to play. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s like playing at the Whit; it’s what college hockey is all about when you go into those buildings with fans who are very passionate about their programs, the excitement and the enthusiasm. Those are the kind of games we like to play in.”

Besides the tough road trip to Vermont, UNH still hosts Maine twice and has home-and-home series to come with BU and BC. So it’s doubtful that they’ll go the rest of the way without losing at least three games … but that may not matter with the kind of lead they’ve got.

Saints and Sinners

BU’s loss to St. Lawrence in the opener of the Ledyard Bank Tournament in Hanover, New Hampshire, was their most disappointing defeat of the season in my book. Watching on TV, I found myself thinking that there was no way that they were going to lose the game based on how they were playing through the first 45 minutes or so. In the end, Parker had good reason to be upset about the officiating, but he was quick to acknowledge that the game should have been decided long before two calls went against them.

“We can talk about the bad calls — one of the calls was ridiculous at the end of the game when they tied it up,” Parker said. “He called [Tom Morrow] for hooking, and my guy’s got one hand on the stick, and the guy grabs a hold of the stick and jumps up in the air, and they call him for hooking. And then there’s the call [in overtime] where [Matt Gilroy]‘s batting at the puck at the net, and they call him for intentionally knocking the net off, and he was playing the puck. And you know that the consequence is going to be a penalty shot if he makes that call.

“That being said, as bad as those calls were, we shouldn’t have been in that position. We should’ve had the game won before the third period started. We had all kinds of chances. One of the problems with my team is that we play much better when we’re behind or tied. The minute we get ahead by one, it’s as if we’re winning 5-1. It’s unbelievable. And it’s been going on all year long. We let them hang around after we get ahead. So we can complain about the refereeing making a debacle out of it because they certainly did, but it should’ve never gotten that far.”

I’ve watched the better part of BU’s game this year, and Parker certainly has his finger on it. So far this has been a team that plays their best when losing. While that’s an admirable quality, Terrier fans would be delighted to see a team that gets a one-goal lead and reacts like a starving shark that’s just picked up the slightest taste of blood.

The Best News of the Weekend

The most remarkable news in a downer weekend for much of the league had to be the return of Terrier senior defenseman Kevin Schaeffer. Just 27 days after suffering serious facial injuries due to a vicious off-ice attack in an early-morning incident off campus, Schaeffer amazingly returned to the lineup and played well beyond expectations.

“The way he looked after the injury and before his operation, I thought he may be out for the rest of the year,” Parker said. “For him to have the operation and then come back as quickly as he has … The plastic surgeon said he’d be fine: As long as he’s wearing a face mask there’s no problem. The amazing part about it is not even that he played but how well he played too. As the game progressed, he played better and better. I dressed [defenseman] Dan McGoff [as a fourth-line forward] because I thought maybe we’d have to sit him for a while because he’d get exhausted. He’s not in great shape, but he played very well.”

Fittingly, Schaeffer rounded out the scoring in BU’s 3-0 victory over Dartmouth in the consolation game with a long empty-netter. With Schaeffer back in the lineup, BU fans also can look forward to the return of last year’s Hockey East Rookie of the Year to the lineup … but not quite yet. Sophomore wing Brandon Yip is practicing with the team but not expected to play this weekend … but he could return in time for the Terriers trip to Maine the following weekend.

Must-Miss TV

When interviewing Dick Umile on the phone earlier this week, I told him that the team’s success had taken me by surprise — particularly because they are 0-2-1 in the games I’ve watched this season. Umile was all over me about that.

“Don’t watch the games this weekend,” he quipped. “I’ll buy you dinner: Don’t watch it this weekend. You saw it on TV? It’s on NESN this weekend: Don’t watch it.”

I told him not to worry because I expected to be at Agganis covering the BU game on Saturday.

“That’s a good thing,” Umile said. “We’ve got a shot.”

Trivia Contest

In the most recent column, I passed along a question for Dave to use. It was called “Friends Turned Foes.” It was as follows: There have been countless situations in which former Hockey East teammates faced off against each other in National Hockey League action. But who were the first pair of former teammates to score in the same game this season while playing for opposing teams?

The answer was former Terrier teammates Ryan Whitney and Freddy Meyer. Back on November 20, the two blueliners scored for their respective teams — the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers — in a game that the Penguins won 5-3. Meyer’s reward? A trade to the New York Islanders.

The first to answer this one correctly was Chris Donnelly. His cheer:

“MERRIMACK HOCKEY: CRUISING INTO THE HOLIDAYS WITH A ONE GAME WIN STREAK!”

Here’s this week’s question. Name THREE current or former Hockey East players OR coaches who either have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada OR who have a RELATIVE who was has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I know of three individuals who fit the bill, but I won’t swear that there aren’t more than that … especially since Dave and I both have an abysmal track record when it comes to getting our own trivia questions correct.

I may ask for documentation if you try to claim that Kaj Linna was the secret love child of Phil Esposito and Kim Novak… or that Jean-Yves Roy is a second cousin twice removed of Patrick Roy.

E-mail me with your answer. The winner will be notified by Monday night; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it.

As always, you can also submit suggested trivia questions to the same e-mail address and if your question is used, you’ll get a cheer as long as you were first to submit it. Please include something like “SUGGESTION” in the subject line.

And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…

As mentioned earlier in the column, Dave Hendrickson is theoretically in Europe watching his son play hockey for Wesleyan. I mentioned this to Dick Umile, who asked where they were playing. I told him I didn’t know, and Umile opined that he hoped the team had the sense to schedule games in, say, southern Italy. My reaction: “Knowing Dave, he’s probably stuck in Scotland enjoying some lovely weather.”

When BU lost to St. Lawrence on a successful penalty shot in overtime by freshman phenom Mike McKenzie, a CN8 reporter interviewer talked to him. A great moment in the interview came when McKenzie was asked why he chose to go to St. Lawrence. “Actually, they were the only team that offered me a scholarship,” McKenzie said. Given that he now has a team-leading 7-10-17 in 19 games played, a few programs are probably wondering how he slipped under the radar — especially given that he was division MVP in the OPJHL with 39-38-77 in just 40 games played last year.

USCHO covers Hockey East all week long on the Hockey East Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.


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